A year ago Pat Perez was a PGA Tour journeyman wondering if he was nearing the end of the journey. He was coming off surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder that had kept him off the course for most of 2016. He could take 15 starts on a medical exemption to keep a tour card he hadn’t lost since first getting it in 2002. However, he didn’t know when his next start would be (he didn’t think he’d get into any fall tour events) until getting a call from a tour official with a lifeline: There was a sponsor’s exemption open in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia if he wanted to make the trip.
Perez jumped at the “free money and free [FedEd Cup] points” in the no-cut tournament, and while he only finished T-33 at TPC Kuala Lumpur, he credits the event with kick-starting the most remarkable season the 41-year-old had ever had. He followed it up with a T-7 in Las Vegas and then a win in Mexico, en route to a season in which he would earn $4.3 million and finish 15th in the FedEx Cup points race.
Perez looks to be continuing that impressive play in his first start of 2017-’18 as he followed up an opening-round 66 at the CIMB Classic on Thursday with a seven-under 65 to grab a one-stroke lead in the weather-delayed second round by posting a 13-under 131 score. It’s the fifth time he’s held at least a share of the 36-hole lead in a tour event but the first time since the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship.
Thunder and rain in the late morning forced a nearly four-hour delay. When play resumed, Perez was one of many to take advantage of the soft conditions, making six birdies on his final nine holes.
“The amazing thing about it,” Perez recently told Golfweek of last year’s start in Malaysia, “is I didn’t think I was going to start until Sony if I didn’t get that spot, so all of this may not have happened if I didn’t go finish seventh in Vegas and then win at Mayakoba, and I was already top three in the FedEx. … I mean, who knows what would’ve happened at Sony? I could have gone there and finished 60th and gotten two points, and who knows what happened on the West Coast because I would have felt a little more pressure only with 14 more starts?”
Perez isn’t the only player carrying good vibes from the 2016-’17 season with him this week. PGA Tour rookie of the year Xander Schauffele shot a five-under 67, including birdies on two of his last three holes, to six one back of Perez through 36 holes. Schauffele also stepped up after the rain delay, going five under after getting back on the course. Interestingly, Schauffele has never been better than T-7 in a tour event after 36 holes.
Australia’s Cameron Smith, who opened with a 64 on Thursday, followed it with a 71 to join Sung Kang (68) and Thomas Pieters (67) in a tie for third, four strokes back of Perez.
Brendan Steele, coming off his repeat win at the Safeway Open, remained in the hunt with a second-round 71 that left him a group of seven tied for eighth at six under. Also in that group is Hideki Matsuyama, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 3, who shot a second-round 68 to move up the leader board.
Paul Casey shot the day's low score with a 63 after shooting an opening-round 77.
Strangely, though, Justin Thomas, arguably the hottest golfer right now and the one gunning for a third-straight win this week, hasn’t been able to get anything going over his first 36 holes. Despite coming into the week with a 65.88 average on the TPC course, the reigning player of the year followed up a 70 with a 71 and sits T-33, 10 strokes back of the leaders.